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A sphere askew: operations, territory and the public in the digital age

Albrecht Fritzsche (Institute of Technology and Process Management, Ulm University, Ulm, Germany)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 15 December 2020

Issue publication date: 4 May 2021




The public is often associated with a spatial entity: the sphere. Recent technical developments, however, raise questions about the applicability of the sphere as a concept in social, political or economic studies. This paper aims to discuss two different intuitions related to spheres regarding operational and territorial attributes. It identifies a growing discrepancy between these intuitions as a result of the spread of digital technology in society. The notion of the sphere must therefore be used more carefully in the future.


The paper takes a conceptual approach based on constructs developed by Habermas for the analysis of the bourgeois public. The resulting twofold model is validated on the background of current research in organisational science and general considerations about the effect of digital technology on society.


The paper identifies an increasing inconsistency in the conceptions of social spheres, which implies that accustomed spatial concepts cannot further be used as before in this context. Exemplary evidence about this divergence is gathered from extant work in the field.


While a lot has already been said about social dynamics in the digital age, their consequences for the applicability of the sphere as a spatial concept have not yet been properly addressed. The paper identifies a fundamental problem in the discourse on social spheres in the digital age that challenges the internal consistency of the concept, independently from any further epistemological or ontological considerations.



Fritzsche, A. (2021), "A sphere askew: operations, territory and the public in the digital age", Kybernetes, Vol. 50 No. 4, pp. 942-954.



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